Friday, September 23, 2005



The Studio Theatre Group performing the touring activities has recently been a major management problem, and matters have now come to a head. The group has consistently argued that it should be paid a group rate, irrespective of whether the full complement of actors is provided or not. They claim that their professionalism would allow them to make up any deficiency in numbers. We have consistently argued that while we can make occasional leeway for illness or force majeure, our definition of the group is the seven people who comprise it. The programme as designed requires two people for each activity (=6) plus one to do the opening and closing performance. Any less inevitably compromises the quality of one or more parts of the programme, and we should not be asked to pay the full rate for what is in effect a less than full provision. We have therefore required and received a signed undertaking from the group that they will provide no fewer than six members for each performance. As well as this, the group has made a number of excessive demands for allowances, transport and hotels which we have refused to meet. We have stipulated a fair and reasonable daily allowance for all out-of-Damascus venues, which the actors feel is far too low.

Before the Homs week, they threatened to pull out if their accommodation (Grand Hotel), transport (rented microbus at their disposal for the week) and food (SYP500 per person per three meals a day) demands were not met. At that point, Dina and Zuhair called their bluff and the group accepted the daily rate set by the project. At Homs and at Hama, however, there were numerous occasions on which members of the group did not appear, were late, or left in the middle of an activity and did not return. With the exception of one or two members, the group appeared unmotivated and unworried at dropping standards. As a result of the number of days on which the group was short-handed, it was decided to deduct $200 from the payment for the Homs week.

On 21 September the spokesman of the group visited the project office and met with Dina. He refused to accept the $200 deduction, and was adamant that the full rate should be paid. He complained about having to deal with children younger than 5 years old who often attended events. He complained that there were 40 children in one group at Hama. He would not undertake to provide seven or even six actors for Aleppo. [We know that two of the group are currently working on an assignment in Egypt, so will not be available.] He made a number of statements which we know to be untrue or ludicrous – for example he claimed that actors sometimes had to leave sessions because they were thirsty. Throughout the conversation he was rude and aggressive.

Sound though the original decision was to use this group, since Yarmouk they have proved a constant and time-wasting management headache. They have presented the project team with a constant stream of demands, to supplement their extremely generous fee. When we gave them an allowance for out-of-Damascus work they asked if we could organise accommodation and food for them instead. When we did that, they were dissatisfied with the hotel and restaurant provided. This has added to the complication of organising each venue. It is clear their interest in the project is entirely financial. They have made no effort to integrate with other members of the crew at venues, and feel that general assistance in the smooth running of a show is no part of their responsibility. They have complained about small spaces, heat, noise of parents talking, low numbers attending, high numbers attending. They behave as contractors rather than as part of the team. If only five actors are available for Aleppo it makes the programme unacceptably sub-standard from the start. Should any one of the five fall ill, the programme simply could not be performed. Taken together with the dismissive attitude, the poor level of professionalism shown at Homs and Hama, the constant complaints and lack of commitment, it does not seem worth incurring the cost and risk of the Aleppo week. It would be still less acceptable to pay the full rate to the group for less than full numbers, as they continue to expect.

I have therefore cancelled the Aleppo programme, and the theatre group has been so informed. This decision has not been taken lightly or without regret.We will reschedule a visit to Aleppo in the early part of the next programme.


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